GULF SHORES, Ala. - Sporting her signature cowboy hat, Pepperdine coach Nina Matthies was all smiles after her No. 2-seeded Waves defeated No. 4 Florida State 4-1 in their opening match of the AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball National Championship.
“It’s a little bit of a crapshoot coming in,” Matthies admitted. “You think you’re going to go 5-0 every match. I never think I’m going to lose a match.”
Matthies starting wearing her rose-emblazoned cowboy hat when the Waves (16-1) won the inaugural AVCA Sand Championship in 2012. With today’s victory, Pepperdine has reached the final four of the championship for the third consecutive year and hopes to add its second title in three years.
“We’ve lost one regular season match in three years,” Matthies said with a grin. “I like my team, and we play well.”
Pepperdine’s No. 1 pair Kelley Larsen and Kellie Woolever made a statement early when they snapped the 26-match win streak of Florida State’s top duo Jace Pardon and Aurora Davis with a 21-19, 21-19 win.
“They [Kellie and Kelley] are pretty hard to ruffle,” Matthies said. “They just play and smile, and they enjoy the game and each other.”
Larsen and Woolever had mixed emotions heading into today’s match.
“We’ve played pretty much every team except for Florida State,” Larsen explained. “I like not knowing how teams play so we can play our own game.”
“We hadn’t played them before so we came into it blind,” Woolever said. “I was more nervous for this than any other game.”
“Kellie and Kelley have been really steady all year long,” Matthies said. “They’re not a really flashy pair. I don’t think any of us are real flashy, but we’re real steady and we know how to win. They did what we wanted to do today so I was really proud of them.”
Florida State’s pair of Sarah Wickstrom and Fatma Yildirim defeated Delaney Knudsen and Caitlin Racich 21-17, 21-19 in flight No. 3 for the Seminoles’ only win against the Waves.
Florida State staved off elimination Friday afternoon, defeating Florida International in all five flights, none requiring a third set, and will face Hawai’i in tomorrow’s first semifinal match.
“It’s really interesting the dynamics of the five teams,” Matthies said. “That’s what makes this venue and this emerging sport so much fun. With five courts going on at once, it’s really exciting, and everyone kind of creates their energy on each court.”
Pepperdine will face No. 1 Southern California (23-2) in the second semifinal match on Saturday. The two teams split matches earlier this season.
The Trojans’ 21-match winning streak was snapped by No. 4 seed University of Hawai’i 3-2 in the tournament’s biggest upset of the day. Hawai’i swept Florida International 5-0 in its first match earlier that day.
Cool, calm, and collected Southern California bounced back with a decisive 4-1 victory over Stetson in an elimination match.
“We didn’t talk about a sense of urgency,” Southern California coach Anna Collier said. “We simply talked about how we could do this, and as long as we stayed smooth and relaxed, we’d move on to the next round.
“We needed to come back, and sometimes it’s tough to get your team back up against a team like Stetson that’s scrappy and digging balls and running around. So we really started to think about our side of the court and got our rhythm going.”
Both coaches agree the road to a championship will not be easy.
“In this tournament, the way it’s structured, you have to go through everyone,” Matthies said. “I think we’re prepared to play anybody. I feel good about my team. I love my girls, and we’ve worked hard.”
“I’ve always said that you’re going to have to beat the three best teams to win this, and we’re just going to beat them in a different order,” Collier said.
Malibu vs. Los Angeles. High noon. Can’t wait.